Thursday, May 28, 2009

Teacher Resists a Charge of Corporal Punishment

May 28, 2009
Teacher Resists a Charge of Corporal Punishment

When Glenn Storman, a guidance counselor at Public School 212 in Gravesend, Brooklyn, came across an unruly student cursing at a substitute teacher in 2004, he ordered the boy to “zip it” and brandished a rolled-up piece of paper, thinking that would be the last he heard of the encounter.
But five years later, Mr. Storman, 57, is embroiled in a legal dispute over allegations that he committed corporal punishment. A 27-year veteran of the school system, Mr. Storman denies hitting the student and is seeking to erase an unsatisfactory rating that a principal gave him. The Department of Education, however, has defended the rating, arguing that Mr. Storman did indeed touch the student, who was in the fifth grade.
The case shows the difficulties teachers can face in disputing the ratings they receive each year from principals. The ratings can determine whether they are eligible for lucrative teaching opportunities outside of the normal school year. The case also sheds light on the fine lines of interpretation surrounding the question of corporal punishment: Did Mr. Storman’s paper brush against the student? If so, was that intentional, and did it rise to the level of corporal punishment?
Teachers who receive unsatisfactory ratings are allowed to appeal to a court, and this month a judge in Manhattan ruled in Mr. Storman’s favor, saying she did not find evidence of corporal punishment. The unsatisfactory rating, wrote the judge, Acting Supreme Court Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich, “shocks the conscience, was arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion.”
The Department of Education said last week that it was reviewing the decision and declined to comment further.
In October 2004, Mr. Storman entered a special education classroom at P.S. 212 after hearing a student yelling. When he stepped into the room, he saw the student on his knees on a chair cursing at the teacher. Holding the piece of paper in his hand, Mr. Storman recalled in an interview, he told the student to be quiet. The student moved forward as he reprimanded him, but Mr. Storman said he did not remember coming into contact with him.
Mr. Storman said he would not have hit the student because he had experience with special education students and did not believe force was the best way of resolving disputes.
“I don’t need to do anything more than to look at them and say, ‘Listen, you know to stop right now,’ ” he said.
Mr. Storman said he had been carrying the rolled-up paper while walking down the hallway. In previous statements to school officials he said he “may have touched” the student’s mouth with the paper, according to the court ruling. He says now that he does not believe that was so.
The boy’s father complained to the school’s principal, who asked for an inquiry, and in 2005, Mr. Storman, who is still a guidance counselor at P.S. 212, received an unsatisfactory rating in his annual review. He appealed, but the Department of Education stood by its determination that he had committed corporal punishment.
Mr. Storman appealed again in 2006, seeking $100,000 in compensation because, he said, the unsatisfactory rating prevented him from getting work as a summer school teacher and a tutor, work which he estimates had added about $25,000 a year to his income. He has also filed a lawsuit in federal court, which is still pending.
Mr. Storman was given another unsatisfactory rating in 2008 after his principal said he had inappropriately yelled at a student, according to Mr. Storman’s lawyer, John. C. Klotz. Mr. Storman is also appealing that rating.
An investigation by the Department of Education’s Office of Special Investigations ultimately substantiated the charges of corporal punishment. But in an apparent change of heart, the investigator who wrote that report, Dennis Boyles, testified during the appeal process that he did not believe Mr. Storman’s actions rose to the level of corporal punishment, according to the May 11 ruling.
Mr. Boyles testified in 2006 that the encounter constituted “inappropriate physical contact” but not corporal punishment, the court ruling said. Last year, Mr. Boyles reiterated his statement that he did not believe Mr. Storman’s actions amounted to corporal punishment, but added that Mr. Storman inappropriately touched the student with the paper, according to the ruling.
The Department of Education defines corporal punishment as “any act of physical force upon a pupil for the purpose of punishing that pupil.”
Mr. Boyles stated in his report that three students in the classroom at the time of the encounter could not recall seeing the paper hit the student’s face. But the fifth grader whom Mr. Storman had reprimanded told the investigator that Mr. Storman had brushed the paper against his lips and embarrassed him, though he added that he had not been physically injured.
The principal of P.S. 212 said at a hearing last year that she had recommended that Mr. Storman be given the unsatisfactory rating because of Mr. Boyles’s findings, which she believed substantiated the corporal punishment charges, according to the ruling.
Justice Kornreich called the Department of Education’s actions “irrational.”
“Nothing in the record supports the D.O.E.’s conclusion that Mr. Storman committed a substantiated act of corporal punishment,” she wrote, ordering that the unsatisfactory rating be annulled.
Mr. Storman said in an interview that the Department of Education had turned a “pebble” into a “mountain worth of wrongdoing.”
“This was a long hard, road,” he said, “and a costly one to me.”

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


The Labor Educator
Sent: Saturday, May 16, 2009 6:31 PM
Subject: Labor's Voice for Change (35) May 14, 2009

Labor's Voice for Change (35) May 14, 2009



The AFL-CIO has been conducting the biggest lobbying campaign in its
history to persuade Congress to approve the Employee Free Choice Act.
It started its EFCA campaign about four years ago, and since then, it
has been pouring countless millions of dollars into a full-scale
campaign to make EFCA a top priority issue for the labor movement. It
has inspired a continuous bombardment of e-mails to lawmakers to win
their support for the measure.

The AFL-CIO’s case for EFCA is clear and straightforward. Employers
are using intimidation, coercion and the threat of discharge to
pressure their employees from forming or joining a union. Union
leaders say that an EFCA law would “level the playing field”
between labor and management. It would make it easier for workers to
join a union by signing an authorization card, rather than by voting
in a Labor Board election, where employers can influence the outcome.
It is the “card check” system that has aroused fierce opposition
from employer groups.

One of the unfortunate side-effects of the EFCA campaign is that
union organizing is at a virtual standstill. Labor leaders are holding
back on their recruiting plans until the passage of a “card check”
law, when they expect huge lines of workers ready to join.

In their quest for EFCA, labor leaders have sent a wrong-headed
message to unorganized workers. We’ve told them that unions are too
weak to protect them from their employers, and that now is not the
time to join a union because they might get fired. This is a message
they are likely to remember when, in the future, a union organizer
shows up at their workplace.

What If Labor’s Gamble for EFCA Is Lost or Delayed?

A strategic mistake by the AFL-CIO leadership is in not mobilizing
unorganized workers to play an active role in the EFCA campaign. After
all, they are the ones who would be the principal beneficiaries of the
legislation, giving them the right to join a union and enjoy its

While union members everywhere have supported the EFCA campaign and
are looking forward to its passage, they would also deem it wise and
prudent to plan on alternatives in case Congress does not approve the

There are events that might make a difference: huge rallies at the
home of every legislator who is uncommitted or intends to vote "No" on
EFCA; a National Labor March in Washington; a 2-hour national work
stoppage or some other attention-getting action that dramatizes EFCA
as a life-and-death issue for the labor movement.

* * * * *

Right now, unions are still waiting — and hoping — that Congress
will act favorably and soon on EFCA, although there is no guarantee
that it will. It is disheartening to learn that a small group of
Democratic Senators, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California,
intends to vote “no”, when EFCA comes up for a vote. Equally
disturbing is the undenied rumor that the Obama administration is
looking for a compromise on EFCA that would satisfy the business

If there is a lesson to be learned from the current struggle over the
Employee Free Choice Act, it is that you win legislative battles by
exhibiting your strengths, not your weaknesses. Pleading is never as
effective as demanding in dealing with opponents.

Article 36 of “Labor’s Voice for Change” will be posted on
Tuesday. May 19.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Day My Union Died

This appeared in Huffington Post and was written by UTLA member Dennis Danziger.

As I cruise around L.A., his eyes follow me. He's in my face when I stop for a coffee or pull up at an ATM. This blond, 30-something, smiling white dude on the ubiquitous billboards looks like he might have sold sub-prime mortgages and enjoyed it. In his hound's-tooth suit and bow tie, I'm pretty sure he fights tax cuts for the rich, and above his head I read these words:

Hiring dropouts is just good business. Honestly who else would work that cheap?

Below his beaming face, I read:

High School Dropouts make 42% less money.
Stay in school.

But on May 15, 2009, I planned to do just the opposite. I was going to stay out of school for just one day, for the work stoppage. I planned to join my fellow United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) union members; we'd voted to picket outside our respective schools to protest the proposed layoffs of 5,100 of our colleagues, 2,500 of whom are teachers, who have received pink slips for the next school year.

UTLA, the second largest teachers union in the country, called this action weeks in advance. I gave my students plenty of notice. I explained it all to them -- that our strike wasn't about us teachers asking for better health care or more money.

I explained that we were protesting Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines's decision to hold back as much as $167 of the $554 million dollars of federal stimulus funds the LAUSD received until the 2010-2011 school year instead of spending that money next year.

This is the LAUSD which dumped $400 million on the Belmont Learning Center, a new high school that was built, then demolished, then rebuilt on a toxic waste site. The same LAUSD that dolled out $186 million taxpayer dollars to outside consultants in 2006-2007. The same district that paid $95 million dollars for a new payroll system that caused chaos with teachers' paychecks for two years. This same district that has assured us that our 9th and 11th grade English classes of 20 (mandated by law) will next year be ballooning to 35 to 38. Our classes of 35 will mushroom to 42 or more.

At Venice High School where I teach English, 55% of our students drop out. If LAUSD fires teachers, APs, deans, college counselors, and librarians, and axes arts and vocational programs, those dropout numbers are likely to soar, sending undereducated teens into a national job market that's losing more than 15,000 jobs a day.

So that's what I planned to march in protest of on May 15.

On May 12, a judge granted the LAUSD a restraining order, forbidding UTLA to strike.

When I heard the news, I knew we were in for a fight, and I was ready to stand up for what I know is right. Sure we were threatened with a fine of a thousand dollars and loss of our credentials if we chose to fight against these layoffs, to challenge Cortines' decision to hold on to the stimulus money, but if we weren't willing to stand up for our rights, we'd never have any.

So I was ready for UTLA leadership to come back to ask for our vote, ready to support them in storming into court to appeal the injunction, ready to stand in solidarity with my fellow teachers. And I was eager to see how many others were.

Instead, none of that happened. Our leadership simply caved. They called off the strike.

And my union died.

For as any middle or high school kid could tell you, if you challenge someone to a fight, you'd better show up.

On Friday, May 15, 39 of UTLA's 48,000 members, at least one of whom had been responsible for calling off the strike, defied the court order and were arrested for sitting in an intersection near LAUSD headquarters. That same day hundreds of teachers called in sick. Others marched legally outside their school sites before school, but when the school bell rang, they timidly entered their classrooms so as not to defy the court order.

I taught that day. I taught and felt despair that boomeranged around my school in a thousand directions -- despair for my fellow teachers, the young, energetic ones who are who are being fired and will never return to the LAUSD, despair for my students whose classrooms are too large and growing larger, despair for my fellow union members whose leadership failed us.

I couldn't think about much else that day, and that night I turned on the local TV news to measure the impact of UTLA's actions on the city.

The third story on the local news that night was an LAPD interview of a suspect not guilty of kidnapping.

The fifth story was about how our city's commuter trains soon will be equipped with on-line cameras.

I was falling asleep, but I waited, and finally the 10th story, 48 seconds long, was about 39 teachers sitting in an intersection and being arrested for blocking traffic.

Now Superintendent Cortines -- puffed up with success -- has implied that he'd keep most of the pink-slipped employees in their jobs -- that is if the rest of us agree to accept furlough days. That's a fancy name for working for free.

And tonight, May 19, 2009, the tax-raising propositions that Governor Schwarzenegger begged and bullied us to vote for, went down in a crushing defeat. Surely, he'll now move to what he's been hinting at, that he'll move to cut the school year and teachers' pay by one week.

So come fall when UTLA teachers are complaining about the chaos and exhaustion that accompany their overcrowded classrooms, we union members will have to remember that when it came time to stand up for our students, we stood down.

By not appealing the injunction or striking in the face of it, we have insured that tens of thousands of our students will one day come under the spell of that smiling guy on the billboard -- the man eager to hire what LAUSD produces best -- high school dropouts.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

School's Out Forever by Seward Darby in The New Republic

Meet the 1,400 jobless New York teachers still getting paid.

Seyward Darby, The New Republic Published: Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It would seem like a pretty good gig: About 1,400 teachers in New York City are receiving full salaries and benefits even though they don't have permanent jobs. Two hundred and five of them have been without full-time work for three years. And they can continue receiving payments indefinitely even if they never secure new positions.

These educators are members of what is called the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR), a program in which unionized teachers are placed when they don't have jobs. They end up there after being displaced by school closings, program cuts, or voluntary transfers. Technically, they work as classroom substitutes, but, when they don't have temporary assignments, they spend their days in school offices, cafeterias, and break rooms. And they are not required to seek full-time positions. "Teach one year, get [displaced], never apply for another job, but, as long as you work as a sub at full salary, you can get tenure at the end of that," says Tim Daly, president of The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a New York-based education advocacy organization that monitors the reserve closely. And some ATR teachers, it seems, are content to stay right where they are. "I'm happy now," one such teacher told TNTP researchers. "I don't have to prep, I don't have to grade tests, I don't have my own class. I don't really have to do anything."

Over the last three years, the city has shelled out almost $200 million to compensate ATR teachers. This school year alone, in the midst of a recession, TNTP has projected the reserve will cost about $75 million. "I could use those [millions] to spend on early childhood education or to fund retention strategies to get our greatest teachers to stay," an official at the city's Department of Education (DOE) says.

Perhaps worst of all, the ATR is part of what was supposed to be an effort to free New York from the stranglehold its powerful teachers' union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), had for decades on teacher hiring. The reserve was created in 2005, when the devastating flaws of the old hiring system--which privileged seniority and lifelong job security over teacher quality--were finally challenged. Reformers came up with a new system, one that compelled displaced teachers to compete for jobs, often against new, younger teachers. But the union, spurred by traditionalists sticking to a deeply rooted belief that teachers should be guaranteed jobs, pushed back. The final agreement extended old-style job assurances by guaranteeing that, even if teachers didn't have positions, they would always get paid.

Now, the recession is forcing New York to make massive budget cuts and refocusing attention on the city's contract with the UFT, which is up for renegotiation in the fall. Something must be done about the ATR. But, while reformers want to amend the rules governing the reserve, saying the ill-conceived 2005 compromises are the problem, the union's traditionalists argue that, if the new way isn't working, there's only one direction to go--back.

Meanwhile, as states look for ways to qualify for federal stimulus money by committing to increasing teacher effectiveness, New York stands as one model of what not to do.

The battle over teacher hiring is why, on a Saturday afternoon in late March, a group of angry veteran teachers gathered in a chilly Manhattan classroom. They were there to protest the ATR. Sitting at desks scattered haphazardly through the room, the educators shouted complaints as one woman scribbled notes on sheets of paper taped to the blackboard. They decried New York's mayor, his chancellor of education, and school principals, and they lamented this cabal's primary goal: to replace experienced educators with younger recruits. "A lot of principals don't want teachers who've been around for a while because when they say jump, we'll say, 'Why?'" one woman cried, her brow furrowing with anger. "A twenty-two-year-old would say, 'How high?'" Another woman holding an issue of the International Socialist Review silently shook her head.

Good veteran teachers, the group said, have been refused employment and are trapped in the ATR. "It's like in the nineteenth century, when people were thrown off farms and had to live in crummy parts of cities," grumbled one teacher, slumped at his desk in snakeskin cowboy boots and a shirt emblazoned with the UFT logo. (Five of the roughly two-dozen teachers in the room indicated that they had worked in the reserve as substitutes; one woman said she'd been doing it for three years.)

Their sense of entitlement dates back to 1961, when the newly formed UFT challenged the weak job security and low pay of the teaching profession. It negotiated a contract that guaranteed teachers jobs and gave hiring priority to the most senior educators. When teachers were displaced from jobs, they weren't unemployed for long; the school district's central office simply decided where to place them next, without input from teachers or principals. The most senior teachers got first dibs on vacancies. If openings weren't available, the district could bump out more junior staff. School systems around the country soon implemented versions of the program, widely called "forced placement," which remains the norm in most districts today.

Soon enough, however, problems began to appear. Districts could place teachers into grades or subject areas that they weren't trained to teach, and principals were required to accept new staff whether they liked it or not. (In 2007, TNTP reported that, through Portland, Oregon's forced-placement process, "teachers are often slotted into grade levels with which they have limited or no experience.") The system also allowed schools to play musical chairs with bad teachers: Skillful principals would reorganize programs to eliminate the positions of poorly performing teachers or encourage them to transfer elsewhere. "It's just the dance of the lemons. Everyone knows about it," says Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Fed up with forced placement's defects, in 2005, the UFT and New York City's DOE crafted a new hiring plan called "mutual consent," which would oblige displaced teachers to apply for jobs rather than accept assigned ones. Seniority would no longer trump all other qualifications. Instead, displaced teachers would have to find vacancies, send out resumes, and go on interviews, and they would face competition from applicants seeking to work in the school system for the first time. Principals would have final say over whom their schools hired.

Today, the vast majority of displaced teachers are rehired, and most approve of mutual consent. But the plan is deeply flawed because, in 2005, UFT refused to sacrifice its commitment to lifelong job security. It won the ATR, which means that, while displaced teachers have to compete for jobs, there is no consequence if they do not find them. They would simply get paid to wait in the ATR.

Today, teachers lingering for months, even years, in the reserve are more likely than the rest of the city's educators to have "unsatisfactory" performance ratings, and many haven't applied for new jobs online, where the city maintains an employment database, or attended a job fair. "There's no way we'd design this system if we started over from scratch," says Tim Daly of TNTP.

Last fall, the UFT insisted that persistent ATR teachers weren't being hired because it cost schools less to bring on new teachers who, as junior recruits, had lower salaries. TNTP found no hiring bias against ATR teachers, but the city agreed in September to pay the schools the difference between a reserve teacher's salary and that of a new hire.

But critics aren't satisfied. They say the city has mounted a smear campaign to garner support for eliminating the ATR, currently a bulwark preserving teachers' lifelong job security. They argue that the DOE and school principals have allowed some veteran teachers (particularly union activists) to languish in the ATR and then used the press to marginalize them as a lazy, unqualified lot. "[There is] a scarlet letter on them that hasn't been erased," says UFT President Randi Weingarten, who is also head of the UFT's umbrella organization, the American Federation of Teachers.

Participants at the March meeting--sponsored by a self-described "dissenting caucus" of the UFT--are leading a campaign to get the city to repeal its mutual-consent policy, including the ATR. And they echoed Weingarten's grievance (though they also called her a "failed labor leader" for agreeing to scrap forced placement in the first place). Wearing black boots, army pants, and a skin-tight shirt that said "undefeated," a reserve teacher standing by a snack table declared himself a "political prisoner." He blamed principals with whom he doesn't get along for keeping him out of a job. "We can take these bastards!" he fumed. Another retired teacher shouted that the city's attacks on seniority and job guarantees "will make the AIG crooks look like gold."

The ideal, reform-minded outcome of New York's fracas would be a better mutual-consent policy. Chicago, one of the only other big U.S. school systems to adopt mutual consent, allows teachers to remain in reserve for ten months, after which they are removed from the public payroll. Some experts also advocate allowing reserve teachers to go on unpaid leave after a specified amount of time; were they to find new jobs, they could return at their old salary levels. New York could also provide reserve teachers with enhanced job-search support. And the city would need to improve teacher evaluations and the rules for handling instructors who aren't measuring up.

But implementing such a comprehensive program is, in the words of one New York DOE official, "a long shot," because of growing opposition and outrage from the UFT and teachers clinging to the past. "I've been in those meetings, in those screaming matches," says the DOE official, describing hiring policy negotiations. "It would be a real uphill slog."

Seyward Darby is the assistant managing editor of The New Republic.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Teachers, Performance Pay, and Accountability (What Education Should Learn from Other Sectors)

[The following is Daniel Koretz' preface to the book

Teachers, Performance Pay, and Accountability (What

Education Should Learn from Other Sectors), by Scott J.

Adams John Heywood Richard Rothstein (eds), ISBN:

1-932066-38-1. The book may be purchased ($14.50) from

the Economic Policy Institute at

-- moderator.]

Teachers, Performance Pay, and Accountability

What Education Should Learn From Other Sectors


May 2009 | An Econonic Policy Institute book

By Scott J. Adams, John S. Heywood & Richard Rothstein

Preface by Daniel Koretz

Series editors Sean P. Corcoran and Joydeep Roy

by Daniel Koretz

Accountability for students' test scores has become the

cornerstone of education policy in the United States.

State policies that rewarded or punished schools and

their staffs for test scores became commonplace in the

1990s. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act federalized

this approach and made it in some respects more

draconian. There is now growing interest in pay for

performance plans that would reward or punish

individual teachers rather than entire schools. This

volume is important reading for anyone interested in

that debate.

The rationale for this approach is deceptively simple.

Teachers are supposed to increase students' knowledge

and skills. Proponents argue that if we manage schools

as if they were private firms and reward and punish

teachers on the basis of how much students learn,

teachers will do better and students will learn more.

This straightforward rationale has led to similarly

simple policies in which scores on standardized tests

of a few subjects dominate accountability systems, to

the near exclusion of all other evidence of


It has become increasingly clear that this model is

overly simplistic, and that we will need to develop

more sophisticated accountability systems. However,

much of the debate-for example, arguments about the

reauthorization of NCLB-continues as if the current

approach were at its core reasonable and that the

system needs only relatively minor tinkering. To put

this debate on a sensible footing requires that we

confront three issues directly.

The first of these critically important issues,

addressed in the first section of this volume by Scott

Adams and John Heywood, is that the rationale for the

current approach misrepresents common practice in the

private sector. Pay for performance based on numerical

measures actually plays a relatively minor role in the

private sector. There are good reasons for this.

Economists working on incentives have pointed out for

some time that for many occupations (particularly,

professionals with complex roles), the available

objective measures are seriously incomplete indicators

of value to firms, and therefore, other measures,

including subjective evaluations, have to be added to

the mix.

And that points to the second issue, known as

Campbell's Law in the social sciences and Goodhart's

Law in economics. In large part because available

numerical measures are necessarily incomplete, holding

workers accountable for them-without countervailing

measures of other kinds-often leads to serious

distortions. Workers will often strive to produce what

is measured at the expense of what is not, even if what

is not measured is highly valuable to the firm. One

also often finds that employees "game" the system in

various ways that corrupt the performance measures, so

that they overstate production even with respect to the

goals that are measured. Richard Rothstein's section in

this volume shows the ubiquity of this problem and

illustrates many of the diverse and even inventive

forms it can take. Some distortions are inevitable,

even when an accountability system has net positive

effects that make it worth retaining. However, the net

effects can be negative, and the distortions are often

serious enough that they need to be addressed

regardless. To disregard this is to pay a great

disservice to the nation's children.

The third essential issue is score inflation-increases

in scores larger than the improvements in learning

warrant-which is the primary form Campbell's Law takes

in test-based accountability systems. Many educators

and policy makers insist that this is not a serious

problem. They are wrong: score inflation is real,

common, and sometimes very large.

Three basic mechanisms generate score inflation. The

first is gaming that increases aggregate scores by

changing the group of students tested-for example,

removing students from testing by being lax about

truancy or assigning students to special education. The

second, which is a consequence of our ill-advised and

unnecessary focus on a single cut score (the

"proficient" standard), is what many teachers call "the

bubble kids problem." Some teachers focus undue effort

on students near the cut while reducing their focus on

other students well below or above it, because only the

ones near the cut score offer the hope of improvement

in the numbers that count.

The third mechanism is preparing students for tests in

ways that inflates individual students' scores. This

mechanism is the least well understood and most

controversial, but it can be the most important of the

three, creating very large biases in scores. One often

hears the argument: "our test is aligned with

standards, and it measures important knowledge and

skills, so what can be wrong with teaching to it?" This

argument is baseless and shows a misunderstanding of

both testing and score inflation. Score inflation does

not require that the test contain unimportant material.

It arises because tests are necessarily small samples

of very large domains of achievement. In building a

test, one has to sample not only content, but task

formats, criteria for scoring, and so on. When this

sampling is somewhat predicable-as it almost always is-

teachers can emphasize the material most likely to

recur, at the expense of other material that is less

likely to be tested but that is nonetheless important.

The result is scores that overstate mastery of the

domain. The evidence is clear that this problem can be

very large. There is no space here to discuss this

further, but if you are not persuaded, I strongly urge

you to read Measuring Up: What Educational Testing

Really Tells Us, where I explain the basic mechanisms

by which this happens and show some of the evidence of

the severity of the problem.

My experience as a public school teacher, my years as

an educational researcher, and my time as a parent of

students in public schools have all persuaded me that

we need better accountability in schools. We won't

achieve that goal, however, by hiding our heads in the

sand. This volume will make an important contribution

to sensible debate about more effective approaches.

Daniel Koretz is the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of

Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education,

Harvard University, and is a member of the National

Academy of Education.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

PEN Update

Please Help Today-- Urgent!
Please share this update with family and friends.

Starting the way I usually finish: A plea for each of you to make a contribution to PEN, today. I know that financial times are hard. If I had no other signs to go by, I could judge by the lack of contributions that have been made to PEN in recent months. Yet, PEN’s important work continues. Information on how to contribute is at the end of this message. Please read on to understand why your contribution of any size ($5, $10, $25, $50, $100…) is vital.

ATTENTION SPOKANE Friends and Members please don’t miss the event announcement, below. I look forward to meeting you in person, this Wednesday.


Thanks to the election of a new state superintendent, it is a near certainty that we have seen our last “WASL” season. However, we are far from seeing our last high-stakes standardized test or ending the repercussions of 16 years of WASL-based school reform. In the last few weeks, I have heard from several parents of seniors who missed passing WASL and the alternative assessments by a few points, only to be told they will not receive a diploma and cannot take part in graduation ceremonies. State Superintendent Randy Dorn has made it clear to us that he supports a graduation test. PEN must continue to monitor the development and implementation of new tests, provide information regarding the harmful impact of high-stakes testing, and work to stop the use of a single test score to award or deny a high school diploma.

PEN keeps the pressure on policymakers. Your support is needed today!

I have also heard from parents of students who are being harassed by principals and district administrators because they have opted out of WASL or have chosen to protest on the test itself. The high-stakes attitudes of school administrators will not change until the test scores of students are not used to label schools, no matter what test is used. PEN must continue to inform policy-makers of the harmful impact of tests in all grades for the purpose of class placement, school accountability, etc… Below, I have pasted a letter PEN sent to Superintendent Dorn last month.

PEN supports and assists parents and teachers. Your support is needed today!


Thanks to Bill Benson at KIRO TV for doing an important investigation and report on WASL. And thanks to those of you who contacted Bill to share your experiences. I received the following email from Mr. Benson on Friday. If you aren’t in the Seattle TV service area, please visit the to view the story, once it airs at the times stated in the email.


Thanks so much for your help on our WASL story. We’ve put together a two part series that’s been four months in the making and involves an analysis of every district in the state. The promos will be running this weekend and the stories will air on Monday May 11th at 11pm, and on Wednesday May 13th at 6pm. There will also be a place on our website where the public can take a look at WASL anomalies in any district they choose.
Again thanks for your assistance and let me know what you think.

Bill Benson
Investigative Producer

(Please thank KIRO and let them know how important stories like this are to our families and, especially, our children.)

PEN helps inform the public. Your support is needed today!


PEN’s Special Education consultant Nancy Vernon and I just returned from a national forum in Alexandria, VA, sponsored by the National Education Association and FairTest ( I have been the Washington coordinator for FairTest’s grassroots internet organization, the Assessment Reform Network, since 2000. The forum was made up of 150 invitees from the 50 states. U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan addressed the group on Thursday afternoon and took questions following his remarks. He also left his senior advisor to take further questions and suggestions. Our own Nancy Vernon asked the only question the senior advisor could not answer, when she asked what the Obama administration is going to do to make sure children who are deaf-blind (as her son is) are included in the accountability plan. She told him that even the test that is designed for the 2% of children with severe disabilities is not an appropriate assessment of her son’s abilities. When the answer was, “We don’t know,” Nancy offered to help them figure it out. The senior advisor eagerly asked for Nancy’s contact information, which is now in his wallet.

The goal of the forum was to brainstorm recommendations for the reform of the No Child Left Behind Act and its testing requirements. The most important reasons for our attendance at this forum were:

· Our ability to speak freely about needed changes.

· The opportunity to network with educators from throughout the nation who are struggling with testing issues, just as we are.

Even in this forum of somewhat likeminded individuals, most of whom do not believe in the high-stakes use of testing taking place today, the suggested reforms were often limited to the revision of standardized tests and the improved reporting of student data. Frustrated by the questions to be answered in one session, I’m afraid I could not contain myself and suggested that if this group could not figure out how to make suggestions that did not center on tests and test scores, there is no hope! I suggested band concerts, history days, and math nights as excellent ways to prove the quality of a public school to the public. I also said “My child’s test scores are nobody’s business!” Many at the forum agreed with the PEN viewpoint.

Thank you to FairTest and NEA for sponsoring this important forum. It is my hope and the hope of the PEN board and consultants that a similar forum can be held in Washington to look at the pros and (especially) the cons of high school exit exams.

PEN has an independent voice to add to the national discussion taking place. Working with national allies is vital but requires resources. Your support is needed today!


If you are in or near Spokane, I hope you will come to a PEN/Mothers Against WASL get together this coming Wednesday, May 13, at 6:30 pm. We will meet at Old Country Buffet, Franklin Park Mall, 5504 N Division St, Spokane.

PEN will have an information booth at the Washington Education Association (WEA) Representative Assembly, May 14-16. I will be in town from Wednesday through Saturday afternoon, so if you are in the area, cannot make it to Old Country Buffet, but would like to get together, please email or call me (253-973-1593) and we can try to figure out another time and place to meet. The WEA event is at the convention center.

PEN networks with teachers and parents, statewide. Your support is needed today!

The events and activities above involve expenses that need to be paid-- hotel, airfare, printed materials, etc… My charge card bill is adding up, yet I cannot stop the work I know is so vital to our children. If you believe the work of PEN is worthwhile, your contribution is needed today! Please, help!
Parent Empowerment Network is a nonprofit, public charity continuing to fight the good fight thanks to tax deductible contributions from good people like you. Please consider becoming a member or making a contribution today.
Parent Empowerment Network
PO Box 494
Spanaway, WA 98387


April 17, 2009

Dear Randy,

As we finish up the first week of what should be the last WASL season, I must tell you I am disturbed by the overt attitude of coercion and intimidation that remains in our school districts, residue, no doubt, of 12 years of the Bergeson administration.

As you may or may not know, one very important service Parent Empowerment Network provides to parents and students is support for their decision to opt out of state level testing (currently the WASL).
One good decision that Dr. Bergeson made, in response to media coverage of early WASL opt outs and protests, was to accept the right of parents to opt out of state-level testing and honor this right by developing a written policy. This policy must be maintained regardless of the format of future state testing, and it must be disseminated more readily to districts and schools rather than being hidden on page 19 of the Assessment Coordinator’s Manual. The individual needs of students and families must be honored above the data collection desires of the state or federal government.

Over the past several years, PEN has developed materials to streamline the opt out process and inform parents and their districts of current state policy. These materials include an opt out form, alternative activities form, and letter to district and school officials asking that they honor the parental decision to opt their child out of testing without undue attempts to coerce participation. I have attached the letter to districts for your information.

This year, with upcoming changes in the testing, PEN members anticipated a more relaxed acceptance of parental opt out than has been our experience in the past. However, several cases in the past week attest to a lack of change from the Bergeson administration milieu. I will share one that is particularly blatant, in hopes of impressing on you just how important it is that we work together to change the status quo. (I believe you are already aware of the opt out incident involving the suspension of two Seattle teachers last month.)

Yesterday, I received a call from a father who happens to be in my own Bethel School District. He asked if I could help with a situation he and his wife were dealing with regarding their third grade son. They had decided to opt their son out of the WASL and take him to Sylvan Learning Center during testing time. His wife had emailed the school and had then spoken with the principal. The principal told of loss of school funding because the third grader was not taking the WASL and also told the mother that “we might have to deal with this in court,” referring to the absence of the eight-year-old during testing time.

Ironically, the family involved is a military family. I am not sure whether the dad has served in Iraq to secure freedom and democracy for citizens of that country, but our schools in Washington State are certainly not setting an example of freedom and democracy for our young citizens or their parents.

Since I had not been in contact with the parents previously, I emailed PEN’s opt out packet and some of the state policy wording for their use. I also called the Bethel assessment coordinator and superintendent. Shortly thereafter, the mother received an email from the principal, who claimed she had been “rushed” during their earlier talk. She now offered appropriate alternative activities for the third grader, told the mother that the district assessment person would be phoning her and asked that she come into the school and sign an opt out form. She also said that the absences would be excused, if the mother would write a note to the attendance office telling of the Sylvan attendance, if that was still the family’s choice.

This more reasonable response should not have required the intervention of an independent nonprofit organization. Take my word, this was not an isolated incident; I could go on about harassment of 8th graders and early morning calls to homeschooled 11th graders telling their parents they must get them to school to take the test “right now!”

Unfortunately, your early announcement that the WASL would be replaced was not enough to change the prevailing high-stakes testing mania that exists in our schools and districts as a result of years of state and federal mandates. Much more must be done to ensure that a change from the WASL carries with it a change in attitude on the part of school administrators toward students, parents, and teachers. The atmosphere of academic bullying and intimidation will not be quick or easy to change and can only be changed through ample communication from your office. You must live up to your campaign promises and send the message to administrators that respect for students, parents and teachers is the new order of the day. Further, your office must boldly model respect for the individual needs of students, the rights of parents and the professionalism of teachers.

In closing, I am sure by now you have received your invitation from the NEA and FairTest to attend their Transforming Assessment and Accountability Systems Forum in Alexandria, VA, May 7th and 8th. I hope you are planning to attend this important event that will bring together leaders in the education assessment reform community from throughout the nation. As Washington’s assessment system is transformed and, hopefully, much improved, it is vital that all options are explored, including the option to replace the exit exam with a more appropriate measure of graduation readiness. I can think of no better place for you to be on May 7th and 8th than with a group of people who have been working through assessment issues for the past decades, through many reforms du jour, including No Child Left Behind. If you find it impossible to attend, Nancy Vernon and I will be happy to gather printed materials and present you with an overview of the sessions but we would far prefer that you experience the event first hand.

It is our hope that your office will sponsor a similar consortium of Washington State education leaders to hear and discuss presentations from a variety of assessment experts with a variety of opinions. I am sure Monty Neill of FairTest and national testing expert Gerald Bracey, who now resides in Port Townsend, would be happy to take part in such an event. This would fulfill your campaign promise to Raul and me that you would look at the issue of exit testing in depth and consider current data regarding its success or failure in other states.



Monday, May 11, 2009

Diane Ravitch on Harlem children's Zone

Diane Ravitch, Historian of education, NYU and Brookings:

David Brooks wrote an intriguing column on Friday in the New York Times, which he called "The Harlem Miracle," about the Harlem Children's Zone charter schools. He says that these schools completely eliminated the black-white achievement gap. This startling result, he says, validates "an emerging model for low-income students," known as "no excuses" schools, where students learn how to behave and are inculcated with middle-class values.

Students in these successful schools spend 50 percent more time in school and their students are continually tested. The suggestion here is that any city can achieve the same remarkable results by following this pattern. But parse it. On the one hand, there is the very sound idea that schools should teach traditional middle-class values, an idea that got squashed in the 1960s and 1970s during the culture wars, as it was considered "white imperialism" and middle-class hubris to impose such values on children who were not white or middle-class. So to the extent that schools can reclaim their role as institutions where children learn the behavior and attitudes that will help them succeed in life, that is great. But the example of Harlem Promise Academy may be hard for whole cities to emulate. For one thing, there is the cost involved in increasing the school day and year by 50 percent. That means increasing education spending considerably to pay teachers to work longer days and weeks. And then there are the specifics of Harlem Promise Academy. In Paul Tough's book about the school, Whatever It Takes, he describes how Geoffrey Canada, the CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone, tried everything to get the scores up for the first class of students. Nothing worked, so he called in the entire class of students and told them he was closing down their grade and they should leave and go to another school. Class dismissed. Well, that's tough love! So, now we have the miracle school itself. The Harlem Children's Zone raises some $36 million in private funding every year, according to a story on 60 Minutes, some portion of which helps to give the charter school first-class facilities and extra funding to reduce class sizes. The charter school has 600 students in kindergarten through eighth grades. It has 76 staff--or about one adult for every eight children--as well as "state-of-the-art science labs, a first-class gym, and a cafeteria that looks more like a restaurant.”

According to the school’s data on the 2007-8 school report card, the Harlem Promise Academy that David Brooks describes as miracle has small classes: 18 in K-6th grade, and 12 to 20 in the middle school. The school enrolls only 1% "limited-English-proficient" students. Did the school eliminate the achievement gap, as the column insists. Aaron Pallas found that the school reports its scores on other tests (not just the New York State tests), and the gap remains. To be sure, the gap is not as large for this school as for the surrounding public schools, but the surrounding public schools do not have the fabulous resources and small classes that the charter school has.

A deeper analysis would ask why our regular public schools are unable to maintain discipline, as the Harlem Promise Academy does. If we are serious about learning the lessons of the success of this school, we would do two things: One, spend much more money on schooling, as Harlem Promise Academy does, to provide much smaller classes, beautiful facilities, and social services; and Two, take a hard look at a generation of court rulings that have made it impossible for regular public schools to be orderly and disciplined environments.


We need and deserve a just contract, regardless of the economic crisis. What are realistic demands, that could be achieved with a strategy of militant grass roots involvement? Read tje text of TJC's latest leaflet below. To get a PDF, to download and reproduce for your chapter, reply to this email. If you need a hard copy to reproduce, or if you need us to send you multiple copies, reply specifying the number of copies, and the address to send them.

TJC demands: A Just Contract for Hard Times.

Our contract expires on October 31. At the April Delegate Assembly, the UFT leadership signaled it is preparing for negotiations by allowing some limited discussion of what our goals should be. It also announced there will be a membership survey soon.

Our past two contracts have been real setbacks for UFT members. (For more information, go to our website and click on "Recent Contracts: The Disaster of 2005 and the Shame of 2006") Unless we, the rank and file, speak out forcefully and independently, 2009 could further undermine our rights, working conditions and standard of living.

TJC believes these are some of the demands we need to reverse our union's tailspin:

No Givebacks, period.
We are working longer, harder, and with fewer rights and less support. Any giveback is unacceptable.

Win Back What We Gave Back!
Restore the two vacation days before Labor Day. Restore the right to grieve unfair and inaccurate material in our files.

Protect Our Schools! Protect Our Jobs!
To protect experienced teachers, restore centralized funding for teacher salaries. Unconditional no layoff clause. Due process rights for probationary members. Moratorium on costly school closings. No new hiring until all ATRs seeking positions have secured them.

No Merit Pay, Individual OR "School Based!"
No fair method for determining "merit" exists. The underlying assumption, that teachers hold back without a money incentive, is demeaning. Our union should be challenging these ideas, not accommodating to them.

Stop "Data Driven" Education!
Data should not be used to evaluate teachers, nor as the basis for any disparate treatment: programming, special observations, etc. Our students are individuals, not mass produced standardized commodities.

Protect Our Rights!
Justice delayed is justice denied: if a grievance is not heard and decided within the time limits, the grievant should win. In disciplinary cases, accused members should have the right to know the charges against them, or discipline should be dropped. Their representatives should have rights to investigate equal to the DoE's powers.

Cost of Living Adjustment
Annual across-the-board wage increases to cover any rise in the cost of living, to safeguard our standard of living against inflation which might be triggered by expansion of deficit spending.

If we want our union to adopt these demands, we must pressure our leadership to mount a fight. Teachers for a Just Contract has always said that we won't win a just contract with the UFT leadership's strategy of lobbying, supporting "friendly" politicians, givebacks, or rallies that express more symbolism than power. The union's twenty year downward spiral proves this.

Instead, we need grassroots activism, rank and file democracy, and militant shows of strength.

If this makes sense to you, please contact us.

You are invited to the next TJC meeting, on Friday, April 24, at 4 PM, at at Stuyvesant High School, room 303 or 305. We will be discussing budget cuts, and spring chapter elections. If you are interested in attending, please reply to this email, so you can receive a copy of the agenda and any materials to be discussed.

Protest March Against NYC School Closings
Thursday, May 14 3 - 7 PM
Gather at Battery Park, walk to Depart. of Education Offices at Chamber Street and Broadway
For more information, call 718 601 4901 or email gemnyc @

Contract expiration is right around the corner. The April Delegate Assembly will be dedicated to "our aspirations for bargaining," with an open mike as soon as Weingarten finishes her report, i.e., five minutes before the automatic time to adjourn. With that in mind, the meeting will go an extra hour until seven. Also, Weingarten discusses Obama on merit pay, her reconciliation with Mayor Mike, and how well things went in Albany. However, a member asks a question about healthcare costs, and she goes right back into "it's the 1970s again and it's givebacks or layoffs" mode. For a copy, reply to this email and ask for the March D.A. notes.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

A strike for our schools (LA teachers vote for one-day strike on May 15!

A strike for our schools

David Rapkin, a member of the board of directors of United Teachers Los Angeles, explains what's at stake in LA teachers' fight against budget cuts.

May 6, 2009

LOS ANGELES teachers and health and human service workers are preparing to go on a one-day May 15 strike to protest layoffs and class size increases.

"We've tried to reason with the school district," said Mat Taylor, South Area chair of United Teachers Los Angeles. "They want us to raise scores and 'improve instruction,' but they turn around and fire the new teachers. Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) pretends to care about our kids, but all they think about is cutting the budget and blaming us."

After weeks of organizing for a vote authorizing the one-day strike, UTLA members voted 74 percent "yes" to walk out. The turnout was historic: Almost 27,000 members, most of the eligible voters, participated in the election, a first for the union.

Even many of those who voted "no" expressed their willingness to strike if that was the will of the majority. In many schools, teachers who met and debated the issues found that "no" sentiment turned into "yes" once everyone clearly understood the fight.

Almost 4,000 teachers' jobs remain on the chopping block. These "RIFed" teachers--victims of LAUSD's "reduction in force"--are concentrated in the city's poorest areas, at schools that serve communities of color. The jobs of several thousand more "classified" workers--the district's term for employees such as secretaries and custodians--are also threatened.

"This fight isn't just about saving jobs," said C.C. Love, a RIFed English teacher at Youth Opportunities Unlimited Alternative High School. "It's a civil rights issue. Young teachers, many of them Black and brown, serving Black and Latino communities, are being fired. Class sizes are being increased. The promise of an equal education for all children is being shamelessly violated."

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SUPERINTENDENT RAMON Cortines, insists that the money isn't there to save jobs. When UTLA officials pointed out that $1 billion in LAUSD funds could be used to avert the layoffs, Cortines abruptly dismissed that proposal. "There is no billion dollars," he taunted at a recent school board meeting.

Yet within several weeks of making that statement, Cortines was forced to admit that there was a billion dollars in the pipeline. In a bulletin sent to all teachers, the superintendent wrote that "it is estimated that President Obama's administration will grant LAUSD about $1 billion in federal stimulus dollars as one-time funding."

LAUSD bureaucrats now know that they will be receiving more than enough money to rescind all the layoffs, and maintain class size rather than raising it. But Cortines refuses to budge. His excuse: "We have a giant deficit to fill."

Cortines' rationale for laying off thousands of teachers left RIFed middle school teacher Joseph Zeccola unmoved. "President Obama passed a stimulus bill to keep us in our jobs, paying taxes and buying things to stimulate the economy," Zeccola said. "That's the purpose of a stimulus bill. The president wants us to use this money now to save jobs, not as spackle to cover holes in the budget created by the district's wasteful spending in the past."

That wasteful spending continues unabated. LAUSD still holds useless trainings at posh hotels, spends millions on unnecessary tests assessments, maintains an archipelago of wasteful "local districts," and pays consultants millions of dollars to perform duties that never affect a single classroom. The district also stacks schools with negligent and petty middle managers, and spends money to decorate its 25th floor downtown offices.

A first-year RIFed teacher at Manual Arts High School said that the district's policies "are effectively saying we want fewer students to be equipped to graduate. Education is being cut; health care is being cut; social services are being cut," she said. "We need to see how the threads tie together."

As Julie Washington, the UTLA's elementary vice president, put it, "They're actually deciding to widen the achievement gap."

What's more, recent studies--and common sense--show that LAUSD will need many more teachers over the next several years. Thousands of current baby-boomer teachers are on the verge of retirement. Superintendent Cortines' "fiscal conservatism" looks like wasteful stupidity when you consider that the district will need to turn around and hire and invest in new teachers right after they get through firing thousands of them.

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HOWEVER, THE strike vote is already having the desired effect. School board members who betrayed teachers and students by voting for the budget that included the layoffs and class size increases are reconsidering their position, thanks to tremendous pressure from teachers and the community.

In the last six weeks, there have been approximately 20 parent-community forums around Los Angeles, organized locally by teachers, students and parents, many of whom are brand new to activism.

In addition, countless local actions, from protests and rallies to student walkouts, press conferences, classroom door decorating campaigns and more have cropped up. This has created a powerful groundswell of fightback that has pressured UTLA leaders and helped bring the union to life.

Max Castillo Sanchez, a second-year RIFed social studies teacher at the Academic Leadership Community, said that he's watched his students come alive in the face of the attacks on their teachers.

"Students that used to give me a hard time are passing out pink cards depicting LAUSD as a pig," he said. "They're pinning them to their backpacks. They want to do something. Who wouldn't want to fight for students like that?"

One particularly memorable action Sanchez helped organize was the April 23 town hall panel at the Edward Roybal Learning Center, featuring LA school board president Monica Garcia. Five hundred angry teachers, students and parents relentlessly confronted Garcia, a supposed champion of the Latino community, for voting to fire teachers and throw schools into chaos.

Chants filled the auditorium as the crowd warmed up: "Monica Garcia. No es mi amiga!" "Change your vote! Change your vote!" people roared.

When she tried to defend herself, students hooted and booed. When Jackie, a particularly fearless high school student reached the mic, she reminded everyone that Garcia claimed to be a friend of the community. Then she turned to Garcia and said: "You're a big liar!" The crowd erupted.

A week later, a rally organized by the teachers, students and parents at Liechty Middle School drew 350 outside a school board meeting. There, kids and parents surrounded Garcia and sang, "Give yourself a pink slip" over and over until she slunk away."

Cortines, for his part, is reportedly unmoved. In response to our strike threat, he stated:

Our students need their teachers. They need them in class every day teaching them to read, write, think and speak. We need our teachers there to ensure vital instruction is occurring, schools are safe, and advanced placement and state testing goes on as planned.

It is irresponsible for the UTLA leadership to push this work stoppage action that violates the law and the union contract. We value our teachers and expect them to carry out their teaching responsibilities every single day, including Friday, May 15.

The man responsible for laying off 4,000 teachers when Obama has given him the money to save every job reminds us that "our students need our teachers." "Hypocrisy" doesn't even begin to describe Cortines' stance.

In fact, UTLA is fighting precisely because our students need our teachers--which is why they shouldn't be laid off. Our one-day strike is meant to defend our schools, to save every job, and to call out the district for its racist and indefensible budget cuts.

And as the teacher from Manual Arts told me, "Our strike will also challenge our own sense of powerlessness." We are fighting for ourselves as well as our students, he said, adding, "we should have direct, democratic control over everything that happens in our lives."

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Featured at Socialism 2009
Hear David Rapkin at Socialism 2009 [1] in San Francisco, speaking on "Social Unionism: Putting the Movement back in the Labor Movement." Check out the Socialism 2009 [2] Web site for more details. See you at Socialism!

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Material on this Web site is licensed by, under a Creative Commons (by-nc-nd 3.0) [3] license, except for articles that are republished with permission. Readers are welcome to share and use material belonging to this site for non-commercial purposes, as long as they are attributed to the author and


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Oakland's small schools movement, 10 years later

Leonie wrote:
A very thoughtful article about the limitations of the small schools movement – esp. now the Gates money is beginning to dry up.

“Jack Gerson, a teacher at Castlemont's Leadership Preparatory Academy and a teacher union leader, said the small schools movement has brought a welcome sense of calm and community to his East Oakland campus. But that's not enough, he said. Students at his school need smaller class sizes, well-supported, well-trained teachers, and interesting lessons that aren't narrowly focused on standardized testing preparation.”

These conditions – especially smaller classes -- were all considered essential to the leaders of the small schools movement when it started years before, but were purposely ignored by the Gates foundation and those intermediary organizations that were eager to take the Gates money, here in NYC and elsewhere.

Oakland's small schools movement, 10 years later

By Katy Murphy
Oakland Tribune

It is often said that there are "two Oaklands," and the city's public education system is no exception to this divide. Some schools are largely attended by the middle class and affluent, and others by the poor and working class. The Interstate 580 freeway, which traces the city's rolling foothills, provides a crude boundary.

About 10 years ago, a group of mothers from the flatlands of East Oakland saw their children languishing in overcrowded, chaotic schools while their peers in the hills received a far different kind of education. Through Oakland Community Organizations, an alliance of community and religious leaders, those concerned mothers and thousands of others pushed for the creation of new, small schools — excellent schools, with innovative practices and high expectations — in their own neighborhoods.

At that time, a movement to create small schools was beginning to catch fire in urban districts across the country. Small schools were touted as a tool to curb sky-high dropout rates and the growing "achievement gap" between poor, often minority students and their middle-class counterparts.

Proponents, including philanthropist Bill Gates, were willing to trade the wide array of course offerings and other resources available at traditional high schools for a more intimate, innovative learning environment. They believed this would give students from

impoverished, violent neighborhoods the extra attention, security and sense of community they needed to succeed, academically.

The Oakland school district signed on. In 2000, the board approved a small schools policy that led to the creation of nine new schools in the first three years. From 2003 to 2007, the district closed seven large, middle and high schools and at least seven elementary schools — those in the city's poorest neighborhoods — and reopened smaller, themed ones in their place. Teachers and principals had to reapply for their jobs.

More than 40 new schools later, the Oakland school district is transformed, at least on the surface. But many of its problems — low test scores, high dropout rates, staff turnover — remain.

Recent studies from Stanford University and Brown University's Annenberg Institute for School Reform have highlighted the successes of the decade-long effort, including its staying power; the movement has survived a state takeover, four superintendents and three state administrators.

"We are poised for a huge breakthrough in the flatlands schools," Lillian Lopez, a prominent parent organizer for Oakland Community Organizations, said at a celebration in April when the Annenberg report was released.

Still, the school district's enrollment has plunged from 55,000 in 2000 to fewer than 40,000 today, a decline most acute in some of the very neighborhoods in which the reform was focused. Since school funding in Oakland is largely driven by enrollment — and since families can choose schools outside their attendance boundaries or one of the city's 32 tuition-free, independently run charters — some of the new schools have struggled financially, eliminating counselors, librarians and key teaching positions.

Such problems, paired with a state budget crisis and an institutional tendency to jettison yesterday's big education reform in favor of the latest trend, have some supporters worried. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which funneled millions of dollars into the effort, has shifted its national focus from small schools to high school reform. The $25 million that fueled the Oakland school district's bold reinvention has run out.

Praise, mixed results

Oakland's new schools are safer, calmer and more welcoming to families than the institutions they replaced, according to surveys conducted by the Annenberg Institute and the dozens of teachers and students interviewed for this story.

Matthew Duffy, principal of Elmhurst Community Prep Middle School in East Oakland, said the transition from a large to a small school has turned him from a "glorified cop" into "an instructional leader." Now, he said, "The conversations I have with teachers are really about teaching."

Some of the new schools in the flatlands, such as Elmhurst Community Prep and ACORN Woodland Elementary in East Oakland and ASCEND in Oakland's predominately Latino Fruitvale neighborhood, have seen their state test scores rise markedly, as have many of the district's traditional elementary schools.

Last spring, the small, Fruitvale-area elementary school Think College Now was named a California Distinguished School at the same time as Hillcrest, an elementary school in one of Oakland's wealthiest neighborhoods. At LIFE Academy, a bioscience-themed high school in East Oakland that opened in 2001, about 40 percent of last year's graduates were admitted into the University of California system, one of the highest acceptance rates in the district.

Other schools have embraced the innovative spirit of the reform. MetWest, a 130-student high school near Laney College that opened in 2002, tossed the traditional high school model aside and instituted student internships and research projects.

Evidence of the movement's effectiveness isn't just anecdotal. In the fall, Linda Darling-Hammond, a researcher from Stanford University, found that students at Oakland's new schools made greater test score gains during the previous three years, on average, than children of similar socioeconomic backgrounds who attended larger schools.

For all the success stories, however, a troubling fact remains: The reading and math scores, particularly those of the district's older students, remain low.

Last year, at all but three of Oakland's new high schools, more than 80 percent of the student body scored either "below basic" or "far below basic" on state math tests, according to an analysis of data provided by the school district's research division.

Dropout rates have improved by most accounts, but they remain high. In fall 2002, for example, the senior class at the old Fremont Federation High School in East Oakland was 62 percent smaller than it had been in the ninth grade. Last fall, the combined 12th-grade enrollment of Fremont's four new, small schools had shrunk by 47 percent over three years — a smaller attrition rate, but still nearly half.

The small schools movement has few vocal critics, but some are disheartened by how their schools have fared in the shuffle. Two of Oakland's new schools, Kizmet Middle School in West Oakland and East Oakland Community High School, were shuttered in 2007 because of low enrollment and other problems. The district recently announced it would phase out three more — BEST High School (McClymonds campus), Paul Robeson School of the Visual & Performing Arts (Fremont campus) and Peralta Creek Middle School (Calvin Simmons campus) — and has signaled that more mergers could follow.

Critics, as well as some supporters, say much of the initial reform effort was consumed by structural and organizational changes, rather than more deeply rooted educational challenges. They note many of Oakland's new schools are grappling with the same old problems: high teacher and principal turnover and limited resources for students — and teachers — who need extra support.

Jack Gerson, a teacher at Castlemont's Leadership Preparatory Academy and a teacher union leader, said the small schools movement has brought a welcome sense of calm and community to his East Oakland campus. But that's not enough, he said. Students at his school need smaller class sizes, well-supported, well-trained teachers, and interesting lessons that aren't narrowly focused on standardized testing preparation.

"You can't just ride on the good feeling," Gerson said. "Eventually you need to provide more, educationally."

One of the central tenets of the movement, for example, is to make it easier for students to form bonds with their teachers, and for teachers to develop closer ties with one another and with the students' families, said LaShawn Route Chatmon, director of the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools, a nonprofit that has played a major role in the effort.

While that has certainly happened to a degree, Route Chatmon said, "It becomes difficult to argue a level of personalization when kids are learning new adults year after year after year." She added, "We cannot underestimate the impact of teacher retention on small schools."

Gerson says his school lost 50 percent of its teaching staff in 2008 and 32 percent in 2007 — not counting instances of teachers who left in the middle of the school year.

The movement's future

Steve Jubb, Route Chatmon's predecessor who described himself, half-jokingly, as "a grandfather to this movement," said he felt as though the school district has been "adrift" during the past 2½ years and he was disappointed with the progress made at some of the small high schools.

"We're still far from the dream that I was holding then and still hold today," he said.

Jubb and other small schools proponents say the healthier, saner environment they have seen in these new startups is a far cry from the legendary chaos that once afflicted some of Oakland's toughest schools. They say with the right focus and imagination, and enough attention to recruiting and supporting teachers, the reform will flourish.

But faced with an increasingly tight and uncertain budget, some Oakland school district officials have publicly contemplated the possibility of closing or merging more schools. "We may need to look at whether we are able to maintain the tiny schools that we are maintaining," interim superintendent Roberta Mayor said at an April 22 school board meeting.

It's not a new proposition. In the fall, Mayor and her staff went around the city, PowerPoint slides in tow, to tell the public how urgently the school system needed to cut expenses. She raised the possibility of closing more than 15 "tiny" schools to save overhead and administrative costs, and was rebuffed. Hundreds of parents, teachers and students, many of them organized by the same group that began the grass-roots movement years ago, made their point. The district backed off.

But Oakland's financial challenges have since deepened, and the district is preparing to hire a new superintendent this spring, whose inclinations are unknown. Troy Flint, the district's spokesman, said a major rollback is unlikely, considering the time, effort and money that has been invested in the reform effort.

"It would be a monumental stupidity, I think, to go backward at this point," Jubb said. He added, "We can't go backward, and we can't stay here."

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Of Myth & Myopia

William E. Carlotti

Spring 1983

Of all the issues that divide the Lower East Side Community, the issue surrounding the education of the children attending the public schools of this community seems to generate the greatest amount of community division. And, it is in the issue of education that it becomes apparent that the Puerto Rican, Black, and Asian American majority of this community, who constitute 98% of those who send their children to the public schools of District One, remains a politically unrepresented, economically depressed and even an oppressed segment of the community, dominated by those residents of the community that do not send their children to its public schools.

Never has a population of such peoples struggled so hard and fought so consistently and bargained and cajoled in so many different ways to attempt to acquire the support of those who, on other issues such as the need for low-cost housing or the need for reliable, affordable medical care or the need for changing a bus route, have a clarity of perspective which other communities would find enviable.

Yet, on the question of the education of the children of this community, the myths of the past and the myopia created by the political and economic self-interests of the present, stand as formidable obstacles to those amongst us who would transform or even revolutionize the backward educational expectations and practices of the District One School Board that keep this District at nearly the bottom rung of educational achievement of all of the other Districts of the City even while it is the smallest and one of the most easily managed and administered.

Stephen Siteman’s recent article (April 1-14, ’83) in the East Villager, GETTING THE SHAFT, shows that he has his heart in the right place and it is with considerable apologies to him that I feel impelled, in the interest of the children of this community, to debunk some of the pervasive myths about the history of education on the Lower East Side that his article perpetuates. A bleeding heart, no matter how well-intentioned when it is accompanied by a head buried in the sand, can have a much more devastating effect on the lives of people that the heart is bleeding for than even the most vicious and outlandish attacks.

Siteman’s ridiculous notion that the schools of the Lower East Side “in their nearly one hundred years of existence before World War II, admirably fulfilled their duty . . . of educating their children to be informed citizens of a democracy,” is so patently the uninformed repetition of the myths and illusions of the “Good Old Lower East Side” that it is almost tiresome to have to recite some of the awful facts regarding the education of the immigrants that flooded these streets in the early 1900s.

In those years, the schools of the Lower East Side were hopelessly overcrowded; health and sanitary conditions in them were dangerously insufficient; and thousands of children simply didn’t attend the schools, begging in the streets for survival or providing the child labor for the burgeoning industry of the Lower East Side – the garment industry.

Truancy, the measure of the children absent from the schools who were registered to attend the schools, reached epidemic proportions. Of the children who attended the schools, an average of 32% were three years or more overage (the 1900s phrase for three years or more below grade level) and less than 10% of the children from these schools graduated from high school.

Masses of children worked both in the garment industry and at home on what the garment manufacturers called home-work. Orphan asylums were bursting at the seams, filled with children who were found existing in the streets and alleys of the Lower East Side and these orphanages registered death rates as high as 80% of the children admitted from the streets of the Lower East Side.

The child mortality rate (children under six years of age) for the tenements of the Lower East Side was 114 deaths per thousand. Overcrowding in these tenements raised the population density to a density greater than that of Hong Kong. It was typical to find twenty people, including boarders, living in a two-room flat.

Not only did those who ran the schools of the time fail to educate the masses of the children who attended them but, in their failure to educate them, invented the thesis of the inherited genetic basis of intelligence and proclaimed that these Southern and Eastern Europeans had emerged from an “inferior racial stock” of Europe that made them uneducable in comparison to the “superior race of Nordic-Aryans” that had preceded them in the immigration to America.

It was in this period that the first major American I.Q. Test, the Stanford-Binet, was introduced by Lewis M. Terman and it was in this period that Cyril Burt’s study of twins, based on falsified data, was popularly introduced to support the genetic determination of intelligence. And, it was this thesis and its instruments, the psychological tests and I.Q. tests, which were turned against the immigrant families and their children when the schools failed to educate them.

Although the developing educational psychology department of City College had already instituted the use of an “Otis Intelligence Test” to measure the “intelligence” of children throughout the City and on the Lower East Side, it was not until Henry Goddard was commissioned by the United States Public Health Service to test the incoming immigrants on Ellis Island that the question of intelligence began to receive widespread attention. According to a “scientific” paper that he produced as a result of the testing (which included measuring the width, length, and circumference of the head which he believed was connected with intelligence), he reached the conclusion that 80% of Hungarian, 87% of Russian, 83% of Jewish, and 79% of Italian immigrants were feebleminded. The number of Eastern and Southern Europeans deported because of “feeblemindedness” increased by 350% in 1913 because of the tests.

It was, however, the version of the Stanford-Binet assembled by Lewis Terman for use on Army recruits in 1916 that had its telling impact on the immigrant population. An enormous number of books, articles, and “scientific” papers appeared as a result of the tests based largely on Yerkes’ report on the Army test data. It was claimed that the average American had a mental age of 14 and thus that democracy could not work, and even efforts to improve the standards of living, health, and education for people like those on the Lower East Side were folly.

A number of books discussed the fact that the recent Polish, Russian, Jewish, and Italian immigrants scored well below the people who had immigrated earlier from England, Germany, and Western Europe.

Professor Carl Brigham, in his Study of American Intelligence, argued that the lower classes breed too much and upper classes don’t breed enough and so, since intelligence is inherited, over the years the average intelligence of Americans will decrease. On this basis, he argued, immigration should not only be restrictive, it should be also highly selective. In addition, Brigham advocated the compulsory sterilization of those that the tests found defective.

Brigham became Secretary of the College Entrance Boards whose Examinations for entrance into College were known as the College Entrance Board Exams but which have now evolved into the Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT).

The direct result of all this testing and measuring for “intelligence” for schools on the Lower East Side was that the City virtually stopped the building of schools, the Board of Education introduced double sessions into the schools according to the “Gary” plan, and then created ungraded classes – the 1900s version of Special Education.

In 1909, 71.5% of the children attending the public schools of New York City were the children of immigrant parents. 98% of the children attending the schools of the Lower East Side were the children of immigrant parents. In 1909, Elwood P. Cubberly, the Dean of Education at Stamford University, whose writings became the standard for the administration of public education for more than a quarter of a century, wrote in his Changing Concepts of Education that,

“The most severe test for the schools are posed by the southern and eastern European immigrant groups who have come to the country after 1880. Illiterate, docile, lacking in self-reliance and initiative and not possessing the Anglo-Teutonic conception of law and order, their coming has served to dilute tremendously our national stock and to corrupt our civic life, and, the problem of proper housing, living, moral, and sanitary conditions, honest and decent government, and proper education have everywhere been made more difficult by their presence.”

The immigrant was “investigated” and “studied” from childhood to the grave. Their effect on politics and citizenship, their insanity and illiteracy, criminal tendency and pauperism, blindness and deafness, feeblemindedness, occupation and destination, -- all were looked into – and, everywhere and in everything the immigrant was found wanting – a MENACE to our national development.

In 42 volumes, published under the guise of scientific scholarship, the United States government documented the shortcomings of the Southern and Eastern European immigrant. If they were Italians, they were not the Italians that claimed Rome. If they were Greeks, they were not “genuine” Greeks descended from Hellenes. The Jewish, Polish, Italian, Russian, etc. immigrants, we were told, were hardly human at all – their head shapes were different, their bodily structure faulty, the weight of their brain deficient. The caliper and the ruler, first used in the United States to measure life for death, later became the instruments for the German Racial Courts under the Nazis. Between 1903 and 1923, the developing Educational Psychology Department at the City College of New York measured the heads (width, length, and circumference) of some 50,000 New York children to establish their “cephalic index” as part of the battery of psychological evaluations to determine the children’s “intelligence” for school placement.

H. H. Laughlin of the Eugenics Record Office (funded by the Carnegie Foundation) wrote in 1917,

“The science of psychology has developed to a high stage of precision that branch devoted to the testing of individuals for natural excellence in mental and temperamental qualities … when the knowledge of this science becomes generally known in Congress, the body will then be expected to apply the direct and logical test for the qualities which we seek to measure in immigrants.”

Lewis Terman (developer of the Stamford-Binet I.Q. Test at Stamford University) and Henry Goddard were members of the Eugenics Research Association. They were concerned with improving human breeding by cutting off the defective “germ plasm” of the feebleminded. Margaret Sanger, portrayed as the heroine of the introduction of birth control to the poor, was also a member of the Association.

Between 1907 and 1928, under the influence of the eugenicists, 21 states practiced eugenical sterilization. California, under the influence of the forever active Terman’s Human Betterment Foundation, accounted for 6,500 such sterilizations in this period.

Later, a German version of the I.Q. Test was used by the Nazis to assign nearly a million people to be disposed of as “mental defectives”. Aside from the Nazi’s concerted drive against the entire Jewish people, those labeled “mental defectives” constituted the second largest group of the millions of people that met their deaths in the concentration camps.

In 1921, the National Academy of Science published a volume summarizing all of the intelligence testing gathered about the American draftee. The immediate practical application of the data was not to a black and white question but to the question of immigrants. Black Americans were already in segregated schools with an inferior curriculum. What appeared from the data was that the immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe scored lower on Terman’s tests than the Black draftee. Immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe scored lower than immigrants from Northern and Western Europe.

In 1918, prior to the publication of the data, Madison Grant co-founded the Galton Society and published his Passing of the Great Race. According to Grant,

“…the majority, calling itself ‘the people’, deliberately endeavored to destroy the higher type and something of the sort was in a measure done after the American Revolution by the expulsion of the Loyalists and the confiscation of their lands, with the resultant loss to the growing nation of good race strains, which were in the next century replaced by immigrants of far lower type.”

With its praise of the Nordic Aryan type, Grant’s book became a by-word of Hitler’s number-one scientific advisor and propagandist for eugenics, Dr. Alfred Rosenberg. His book, “The Myth Of The Twentieth Century”, propounded a racial theory that the world was divided into races with the “Aryan” or “Nordic” races as the superior race. Grant’s book was of the same ilk and Grant’s special treatment of the Jewish and Italian people was particularly interesting to the Nazis:

“Recent attempts have been made in the interest of inferior races among our immigrants to show that the shape of the skull does change, not merely in a century, but in a single generation. In 1910, the report of the anthropological expert on the Congressional Immigration Commission gravely declared that a round skull Jew on his way across the Atlantic might and did have a round skull child but, a few years later, in response to the subtle elixir of American institutions as exemplified by an East Side tenement, might and did have a child whose skull was appreciably longer; and that a long skull south Italian, breeding freely, would have precisely the same experience in the reverse direction. In other words, the Melting Pot was acting instantly under the influence of a changed environment.”

Grant’s sneer was directed at Franz Boas’ work against the immutability of head shapes. In testimony before the Senate Committee on Immigration, Grant made these observations:

The country at large has been greatly impressed by… the army intelligence tests…carefully analyzed by Yerkes and Brigham. The experts…believe…the tests give as accurate a measure of intelligence as possible…the questions were selected with a view to measuring innate ability…Had mental tests been in operation…over 6,000,000 immigrants now living in this country…would never have been admitted.”

In 1921, after intense debate, Congress passed the legislation to limit the number of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe to 3% of its population in the United States according to the 1910 Census. After Yerkes, Terman, Goddard, Brigham, Laughlin, and company were through with the matter, the permanent immigration law was passed in 1924 which reduced the percentage to 2% of the various groups based on the 1890 Census when, it was asserted, the “superior” Nordic stock was dominant. The 1924 Immigration Law was explicitly passed based on an exclusionary racist policy designed to keep the “inferior” blood from Eastern and Southern Europe from American shores. This inferiority had been shown “scientifically” by the psychologist’s tests that had clearly demonstrated that the innate intelligence of the Polish, Jewish, Russian, Italian, Irish, etc., was 25-30 I.Q. points lower than the “superior” Nordic/Aryan/Teutonic/Anglo-Saxon that had immigrated in an earlier period to America.

In the midst of all of this, New York City decided to hire the “professional experts” to study the failing New York school system. In 1910, these experts produced what has become known as the Hanus Report. Henry Goddard, who was an active participant in the drive to restrict immigration, was one of the experts preparing the report. When viewed outside of the context of the whole hysteria about the immigrant, the report appears to be simply concerned with administration, curriculum, professionalism, etc. Diane Ravitch, in her Great School Wars of recent publication, has chosen to interpret the report in this light but a reading of the report itself leaves no doubt about its intent.

Henry Goddard, writing in 1912, just after the report was issued, was never clearer about the educational purposes his participation in the production of the report intended to accomplish:

“Here we have a group who, when children in school, cannot learn the things that are given them to learn, because through their mental defect, they are incapable of mastering abstractions. They never learn to read sufficiently well to make reading pleasurable or of practical use to them. The same is true of number work. Under our compulsory school system and our present course of study, we compel these children to go to school and attempt to teach them the three R’s and even higher subjects. Thus they worry through a few grades until they are fourteen years old and then leave school, not having learned anything of value or that can be of help to them to make even a meager living in the world.

…no amount of work in the slums or removing the slums from our cities will ever be successful until we take care of those who make the slums what they are…If all of the slum districts of our cities were removed tomorrow and model tenements built in their places, we would still have slums in a week’s time, because we have these mentally defective people who can never be taught to live otherwise than as they have been living. Not until we take care of this class and see to it that their lives are guided by intelligent people, shall we remove these sores from our social life.

…They are multiplying at twice the rate of the general population, and not until we recognize this fact, and work on this basis, will we begin to solve these social problems.”

Writing in the Hanus Report (after he had concluded that approximately 80% of the immigrants were feebleminded), Goddard asserted that

“The attempt to make citizens of this class of children by the same method that is used with normal children has been tried, and has failed…Under the compulsory education law we are getting more of them in our schools and have finally driven them into ungraded classes. Having learned something of the lesson that experience has taught us, we have consented to devote nearly half of their time to manual training, and we have seen beneficial results.

…book work is practically useless for these children, and that our work with them, instead of being half-manual, should be all manual and vocational. Careful psychological studies of the type of mind possessed by these defectives show that they are incapable of dealing with abstractions and that everything is abstract with them that does not concern those things that enter into their daily life and experience.” (Emphasis in original)

The practical consequence of the report was to lend support to the Gary Plan of education but also to firmly establish in the New York City school system the elimination of a standardized curriculum in favor of a tracking system. While the Gary Plan, which blatantly sought to establish such a system, was defeated by parental opposition amongst the immigrant grant groups, the ungraded classes and different curriculums for different children became slowly institutionalized by subtler, unannounced means.

Cubberly made the matter clear:

“Every manufacturing establishment that turns out a standard product, or a series of products of any kind maintains a force of efficiency experts to study methods of procedure and to measure and test the output of its works. Such men ultimately bring the manufacturing establishment large returns, by introducing improvements in processes and procedure, and training the workmen to produce larger and better output. Our schools are, in a sense, factories, in which the raw product (children) are to be shaped to meet the various demands of life. The specifications for manufacturing in the schools come from the demands of twentieth century civilization, and it is the business of schools to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down. This demands good tools, specialized machinery, continuous measurement of production to see if it is according to specification, the elimination of waste in manufacture, and a variety in the output.”

So, when the schools of District One appear to be failing because the children are not reading or doing math on grade level; and if there are nearly 2,000 children of the 11,000 children of the District assigned to Special Education classes (the modern ungraded classes); they are being manufactured according to the specifications necessary.

The racism which confronted the Polish, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Hungarian, Russian, Ukrainian, etc., immigrant children attending the Lower East Side schools, and which eventually culminated in the 1924 Immigration Law stemmed from the academician’s “scientific” division of Europe’s human population into three distinct “racial” groups. According to the academicians of the late 19th century and early 20th century, Europe was divided into the “superior” Nordic/Aryan/Teutonic/Anglo-Saxon group and the “inferior” Alpine/Celtic/Semitic and the Iberian/Mediterranean/River-Bed groups. These groups, they wrote, could be distinguished by the shape of the head which, they maintained, was genetically passed on, without change, from generation to generation. According to their “scientific” findings, the shape of the head served to fix the intelligence of these “racial” groups (also distinguished by skin color, hair color, and eye color) and the psychologist’s I.Q. tests administered en masse to the immigrant groups entering the United States confirmed the “superior” intelligence of the Nordic/Aryan/Teutonic/Anglo-Saxon type.

In an attempt to disprove this “scientific” truism of the time, Franz Boas actually ran around measuring the heads of 18,000 individuals from immigrant families. His summary of the measurements was presented to the United States Immigration Commission. What his actual measurements showed was that head shapes varied within the immigrant families, within generations, and between generations. In short, that brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grandmothers, grandfathers, cousins, children of the same families and within and across immigrant groups all showed variations in head shape and that these changes were “so definite that, while heretofore we had the right to assume that human types are stable, all the evidence is now in favor of a great plasticity of human types, and permanence of types in new surroundings appears as the exception rather than as a rule.” What Boas’ work conclusively revealed was that the cephalic index – “as a measurement of anything other than the size of a person’s hat – was as scientifically viable as the Flat Earth Theory.” The “scientific” racists of the time, however, weren’t confused by the facts.

Madison Grant, who later became president of the New York Zoological Society, published his Passing of the Great Race in 1916 and it became an international best seller. The impact of the book is described by Constantine Panunzio in his Immigration Crossroads which was contemporary to the time:

“The idea has been expounded before this by Gobineau, Chamberlain and William III in Germany in the form of the super-race theory. But it was left to Madison Grant to devolve it in his book in such a striking manner as to stir America…The amazing extent to which this idea seized the American mind can be gathered from the literature. Being a theory difficult to prove one way or the other, it swept whole regions like a gigantic fire, by the momentum of its ego-centric heat. It played an important part in stimulating wartime prejudice and in paving the way for restriction of the immigration of southern and eastern Europeans.”

The racist theories and practices against Southern and Eastern Europeans persisted in the United States up to and even after the Second World War when it took the death of some 50 million people from all over the world to defeat the Nazi practitioners of the theory.

Joan Washington’s well-intentioned and complimentary letter in response to Part I of this series misses the point entirely when she describes the Southern and Eastern European immigrants to the Lower East Side as “the dreaded underclass of that time”. The racism directed at these immigrants was merely appended on to, added on to the already existing, long history of racist practices and theories directed against the Africans in the United States.

When the immigrants came to the Lower East Side, African Americans were already here and they have remained on the Lower East Side as a significant component of the Lower East Side community during the massive flood of immigration between 1880 and 1920 and remain here to this day.

Any of the practices and theories of racism in the United States have always had as their central focus the disenfranchisement, segregation, discrimination, and denial of opportunity against the African American, and the period of the mass immigration of Europeans to the Lower East Side in the late 19th century were no different.

There are those who, when they have examined the experiences of the immigrant, would attempt to deny that the central focus of racist oppression in the United States has been the African American – just as there are those who, when they realize that 15,000,000 were exterminated in the Nazi concentration camps, would attempt to deny that the central focus of the Nazi extermination policy was to dispose of the entire Jewish people.

When the Irish arrived here in the mid-1800s, the African American was living in what was then called the “Five Point” section, what is now the area surrounding City Hall. When the Southern and Eastern Europeans arrived here, the African American was living on Bleecker, Sullivan, Thompson, MacDougal, and Carmine Streets. What was, in the late 1800s, called “Little Africa” by Jacob Riis, has become, in 1983, “Little Italy”. The African Free School Number 2, founded by the New York Manumission Society, was located at Grand Street. There was the Abyssinian Baptist Church, the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the African Grove Theatre – all located on the Lower East Side.

Aside from the fact that the schools of the Lower East Side failed to educate the mass of the Eastern and Southern European immigrants that attended them, the African American was segregated and discriminated against and the “scientific” racism directed against the immigrant was multiplied dozens of times when it was directed against the African American.

Rather than admirably “fulfilling their duty…of educating their children to be informed citizens of a democracy” as Siteman contends (from earlier East Villager article) the schools of the Lower East Side have been the central figures of the most vicious racism that the academicians could “scientifically” muster.

The response of the immigrants to these attacks ranged over a broad spectrum – from fighting and organizing to change the nature of the institutions, including the schools, that confronted us; to a stubborn refusal to accept the practices, including those in the schools, which denied us our humanity, finding shelter and comfort in the associations, relations and cultures that we had brought with us; to changing our names, dyeing and greasing our hair, changing our noses and plastering our faces with white powder and assimilating, as far as we were permitted, that which confronted us with hostility, biding our time until time ceased to exist.

The vicious racist assault against the immigrant, instead of producing a unity with those who had historically been the central focus of the assault, produced the denial that the immigrant had anything in common with the descendants of former slaves. Slowly, but as surely as racism was firmly imbedded in United States society, the immigrant was separated and separated themselves from the African American.

The real melting pot of America worked wonders and the Second World War completed the task. Gone was the world of the despised Alpine/Celtic/Semitic Mediterranean/Siberian races and the superior Nordic/Aryan/Teutonic/Anglo-Saxon and presto-chango – here was the new world of the “superior” whites and “inferior” non-whites.

No more statistics on the number of overage Polish, Italian, Jewish, Russian, Hungarian, Irish, etc., children in the schools – there were now the statistics of the percentages of Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Asians, etc., reading below grade level and of how the whites score higher on the City-Wide Achievement Tests and the Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) and the Law School Admissions Tests and the Medical College Admissions Tests and how “whites” score higher than “non-whites” on the Intelligence Tests and on the Teacher Competency Tests.

The children of the immigrants, now firmly established amongst the symbol producers (the sociologists, psychologists, linguists, educationalists, anthropologists, economists, etc.), having successfully molted in the melting pot, discard the terms of their own victimization and invent the terms and the instruments of the continuing victimization of those victims that they found here.

The normal statistical curve becomes the new hangman’s noose; the group subtleties of the grammar, syntax, and semantics of language become the new cephalic index of intelligence; and “reverse” discrimination becomes the new police dog and fire hose of higher education.

The children of the immigrants, however, having bided their time, respond to the theory of the genetic basis of intelligence with their own theories of the environmental basis of intelligence; the fact that both of the theories assign “inferior” intelligence to the same centuries-old victims of racism in the United States is of no consequence to these children of the immigrants. After all, their theories are based on the “scientific” findings of cultural deprivation, pathological families, matrifocal or father-absent families, emotionally handicapped children, non-verbal interactions between parents and children, etc., etc., etc.

And so, the new “scientific” racism and its advocates insist that they must run the schools of District One.